Report on using Web Technologies for monitoring, marketing and providing information on breeding pedigree Highland Cattle on Lewis
World-Wide Web (WWW) Technology
Throughout history, crofters have developed and refined their systems and improved their stock using the latest in knowledge, design and technology available to them.
Over the past 25 years, Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has continued to develop at an impressive rate throughout the Highlands and Islands.
In 2005, the building of an authority-wide broadband infrastructure commenced which covers all of the Western Isles. By 2006/07, broadband coverage was available to nearly all districts from Lewis to Barra giving much greater bandwidth and faster transmission of text, colour graphics, audio, video, etc via the internet.
In 2006, a group of Brue crofters on Lewis, who had been rearing pedigree Highland cattle since 2001, received grant funding support from the Lewis Endowment Fund (LEF) to explore the use of these technologies.
Three specific areas were of interest:
a) Webcam Technology;
b) World-wide Web for providing information and as a marketing tool; and
c) Educational opportunities and links with local schools
With the broadband infrastructure rollout to local schools still at an early stage in Spring 2006, it was decided to concentrate in Year 1 on the benefits offered by Webcam Technologies and the World-wide Web.
What is Webcam Technology?
A webcam is a small camera which is connected directly by cable or via wireless (without cable) and used to transmit ‘still’ pictures or streaming video images back to a monitor or computer. It can also be linked to a ‘network server’ for accessing via the World-wide Web.
Why use Webcam Technology?
Today, webcam technology is used worldwide for all sorts of reasons in communications, industry, commerce, education, business/home security, etc. In agriculture, webcam technology also has obvious applications for security and the remote monitoring of buildings and livestock. It is particularly useful at calving time when animals can be closely watched without being disturbed unless assistance is required.
Are there different kinds of webcams?
There are a wide variety of webcam brands and models ranging in quality and features from basic quality black and white cameras with a fixed view and costing less than £20 to webcams that can be controlled remotely to ‘pan around’ and transmit high quality, colour video images plus audio. The quality, power, range and zoom of the camera lens will determine the picture/video quality and price, as will having night vision functionality and weather-proofing to operate out of doors.
What hardware is required and how much does it cost?
Currently, a webcam which transmits colour, video quality images back to a remote computer screen and which can be controlled remotely will cost about £200-£250 + VAT. Although the technology is continually improving, a fixed cable connection may prove more reliable than a wireless (no data cable) option. This is because building structures (eg. steel pillars, concrete walls, etc) can reduce picture quality and the distance over which a ‘wireless’ connection can work reliably. Note: 80 metres is approaching the maximum limit over which standard (CAT5e) networking cable can be used to reliably transmit webcam images and/or audio.
What is required to fit a webcam, for example, in the byre?
1 x motorised webcam with software to remotely control the webcam’s view and audio from the house/office computer @ approx £250 + VAT.
1 x length of CAT5e cable @ 15p/metre (max 80m)
1 x mains power socket nearby where the webcam is to be mounted
In the house/office, a standard computer is required with RJ45 network interface
The webcam will be supplied with software which allows the user to control the camera remotely from an adjacent house/office.
Trench excavation/infill for plastic (vermin-proof) ducting between, eg. brye and house/office to route and protect the RJ45 cable (Note: RJ45 cable is like interior telephone cable).
Routing and securing of data cable along its length from entry point in the respective buildings - to the webcam (byre) and the computer (house/office).
How long does setting up the webcam software take?
A person who is reasonably familiar with installing software on an industry-standard computer would take about 2 hours to read the step-by-step instructions, install and configure the software and test and refine the webcam settings.
What is the quality of the images like?
As mentioned above, that will depend on the webcam used, but the following are ‘still’ images from a webcam costing £230 + VAT (Spring 2006). The webcam was installed in the byre at 19 Brue and used as part of the LEF- backed project.
The webcam installation exceeded initial expectations for ease of use, clarity of image and convenience. It also proved to be a very useful tool for the remote monitoring of the cattle without disturbing them and this aspect was especially effective during calving.
Overall, the webcam proved to be very effective and additional cameras have now been installed to provide greater coverage in a cattle shed measuring 18m x 3m.
A more expensive camera(s) model with enhanced zoom facility could have been installed but it was decided to increase the number of the less expensive cameras, with each one covering a smaller area, thus reducing the risk of down-time should any technical problems or breakages arise.
In over 12 months continuous (24 hour) operation, no technical problems or breakages were experienced except after a mains power failure, when the webcam simply had to be reset (switched off and on) before normal service resumed.
Night-view facilities are also available on more expensive cameras but again it was decided to install the more basic camera and leave a light on as required, eg for night-time calving. This did not seem to disturb or stress the cattle at all.
The safety and bio-security aspects of a webcam is an interesting and important benefit. Knowing that all visitors to the byre will notice the webcam (its presence is reinforced by a small but distinct LED light) does offer reassurance to the cattle owner when away from the croft.
Another interesting factor offered by the remote aspect of the webcam is that it highlights the other ‘wild/birdlife’ which may be making use of the shelter, feed and accommodation offered by the byre building. Hopefully, most of these will be harmless but the webcam is a useful tool when trying to eradicate any unwelcome lodgers!
Website Technology on the World-wide Web
Access to the Word-wide Web (WWW) to search for, research and provide up-to-date information is very important to modern agricultural producers. It is particularly useful for producers who wish to use this technology as an additional option for marketing their livestock and/or meat produce via a dedicated website.
Using part of the Year 1 (2006/07) LEF grant money, the Brue Crofters Group designed and created its own website to advertise and share information about their cattle and explore the technology’s potential as a marketing tool for their stock and beef produce. As both cattle folds were jointly managed together and sharing grazings, transport, handling facilities, bulls, etc it was decided to create one shared website under the name www.bruehighlanders.co.uk
The website had several functions which include:
a) providing information both about Highland cattle in general and the Brue Highland cattle in particular; b) sharing information with others who might have an interest in cattle;
c) marketing the stock and croft produce;
d) providing information to potential customers on cattle pedigrees, health status, quality assurance, performance figures, etc;
e) providing information to schools/others for educational purposes.
Within days of going ‘live’ the website was generating interest and providing feedback from people who had a genuine interest in the cattle and who were keen to find out more information about them.
The website proved that it was being used as most enquires about the cattle confirmed that people had already read up about them on the ‘bruehighlanders’ website.
As a marketing tool, the website demonstrated its powerful scope, overcoming the daily ‘island’ problems of geography, ferry costs, remoteness from urban centres, etc to reach directly into users’ homes, offices, shops, universities, schools, etc.
The ‘bruehighlanders’ website made a positive contribution to the Brue Crofters Group. In Year 1 (2006), orders for their pedigree Highland beef outstripped the year’s supply by 150%! The website also contributed to increased direct sales for both croft lamb and mutton and increased sales offer confidence to those involved with stock development projects on Lewis.
All websites require ongoing work and like a shop window must be kept fresh, attractive and up-to-date for both information and produce customers. The site of course must also be backed-up with product and customer care that matches the website’s accuracy and description of quality and taste.
As web technologies and applications continue to develop, knowledge of their use and ability to use them offer very interesting and useful tools for Lewis crofters – indeed, their economic future may well depend on their ability to grasp and use them to their full potential.
The Brue Crofters Group have made contact with some local schools and it is intended to explore and develop the educational benefits of using WWW technologies to engage pupils with cattle production and food production on Lewis in 2007/08.
Webcam installation showing mains power socket (right) with motorised webcam (left) fixed on an upright beam approx 3m above the floor. The webcam’s camera can swivel left to right approx 300˚ and up and down approx 150˚
Slightly reduced webcam image and camera interface controls which appear on the remote computer screen in the house or office.